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A Coast Guard scholarship is attracting scrutiny because it is open only to students from “Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” “Hispanic-Serving Institutions” and “Tribal Colleges and Universities.”

A wide variety of scholarship programs continue to favor minority students over non-minority students, particularly whites. The armed forces have contributed to the state of affairs with a Coast Guard scholarship named the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative, or CSPI.

UCLA law professor Richard Sander told WND that the CSPI scholarship “seems plainly illegal under current federal law and court decisions.”

CSPI is explicit about the exact racial groups that are preferred. According the Coast Guard’s own website, the scholarship is only open to students from “Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” “Hispanic-Serving Institutions,” “Tribal Colleges and Universities” and certain colleges in Guam, Hawaii and New Mexico.

Hispanic-Serving Institutions are officially defined by The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities as schools “where total Hispanic enrollment constitutes a minimum of 25 percent of the total enrollment.”

The Coast Guard’s CSPI scholarship violates important nondiscrimination principles, according to Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

“The military ought to be setting an example of nondiscrimination and colorblind equal opportunity. Instead, it’s doing just the opposite,” Clegg told WND.

Clegg noted that a dubious reason is commonly given for why the military should be allowed to use affirmative action: Affirmative action supporters argue that “in Vietnam you had lots of black enlisted men and an almost all-white officer corps, and this created problems.”

In the Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger, for example, some affirmative action supporters argued that “it is bad for morale if the racial makeup of military officers is too much out of line with the racial makeup of the enlisted men.”

“This is an ugly and not very persuasive argument,” Clegg said, but it is commonly used to justify affirmative action in the military, and the argument helped uphold affirmative action in civilian colleges.

However, the logic of the argument suggests that perhaps it shouldn’t apply to the Coast Guard.

“If the Coast Guard’s enlisted men tend to have few blacks, then this argument means there’s no reason that the officers need to have much ‘diversity’ either,” Clegg pointed out.

Indeed, the percentage of black officers in the Coast Guard is very close to the percentage of black enlisted members. Four-point-six percent of Coast Guard officers are black, while 5.8 percent of enlisted are black, according to a Defense Manpower Data Center Report. About 5 percent of incoming students at the Coast Guard Academy are black. Overall, the Coast Guard is 5.4 percent black (2012), by far the lowest percentage of any of the service branches.

Because 4.6 percent of Coast Guard officers and 5.8 percent of enlisted members are black, the Vietnam-era argument about unit morale is arguably outmoded, making affirmative action unconstitutional in the Coast Guard, if not the entire military.

Sander agrees that the scholarship should be unconstitutional, saying “the college link is sufficiently transparent as to not legally protect the Coast Guard’s use of a racial surrogate.”

Nonetheless, the Coast Guard has been under intense scrutiny by minority racial interest groups because it has a small percentage of black officers. Because of that scrutiny, the Coast Guard and NAACP have entered into a “voluntary agreement” to increase the number of African-Americans at the Coast Guard Academy.

At a congressional hearing in 2009, former congressman James Oberstar complained to the Coast Guard, “I am shocked that you only have five African Americans entering the class of 2013 and that you only offered two African American students appointments that were coming directly from high school that did not need additional preparation from a preparatory school.”

For the 2013 class, the Coast Guard offered admission to 411 of 1,672 applicants. Just 47 blacks applied, seven were offered admission and five accepted.

Demands for increased minority representation give rise to concerns about the impact of racial preferences on academic standards.

In the recent book “Mismatch,” Stuart Taylor and Richard Sander discuss the issue of academic standards and racial preferences. Taylor and Sander point out that “[l]arge preferences often place students in environments where they can neither learn nor compete effectively.”

“Mismatch” contends that the Supreme Court should ban any consideration of race in awarding financial aid or scholarships at state schools. The authors insist that “the main function of race-based financial aid is to fuel zero-sum bidding wars among competing campuses for the limited supply of blacks with strong academic qualifications.”

“Because a large proportion of those blacks are from well-off families, they need financial aid much less – but are much more likely to get it – than better-qualified, less
well-off white and Asian students,” Taylor and Sander write.

Clegg said that additional problems with racial preferences arise when such preferences are applied to the military.

Clegg asked: “Why should the Coast Guard be encouraging students to go to schools with a particular racial and ethnic mix? Why should the Coast Guard itself be favoring students of some skin colors and national origins over others, as this program is obviously designed to do?”

Contributing to worries about racial preferences, the Coast Guard’s CSPI scholarship has very low academic standards. The academic eligibility requirement is a mere “2.5 or better on a 4.0 scale,” according to the official Coast Guard description of the scholarship.

In fact, some critics warn that the goal of affirmative action is even more radical than simple preferences. Former Republican congressman and retired Army officer Allen B. West recently filed a brief with the Supreme Court in opposition to affirmative action. That brief warned that today’s military “is being encouraged, if not directed, to institute race-conscious policies designed to achieve pure racial balancing within the nation’s armed forces.”

At least one supporter of affirmative action has admitted CSPI’s blatantly racial goal. In an influential brief in support of affirmative action for the 2003 Grutter case, affirmative action proponents stated, “The [CSPI] program is designed to increase minority junior officers in the Guard.”

Critics say thee Coast Guard scholarship seems, like many such efforts, to be a thinly disguised plan to favor students of certain minority ethnicities over others, at the expense of non-minority students.

While racially exclusive scholarships are routinely granted to minority students, race-neutral scholarships are sometimes criticized if they are seen as directed towards whites.

The fast food giant Wendy’s recently came under criticism for establishing a scholarship fund that incidentally benefited whites. The 28 winners in 2011-2012 do not include any blacks. As a result, BlackNews.com complained about the racial makeup of award recipients, which led to rumors of a Wendy’s boycott.

In fact, many institutions extend racial preferences to minorities even as they propagate the notion that having white skin is “unfair.” The University of Wisconsin Duluth-Superior went so far as to create ads featuring white people branded with “white privilege” messages scrawled on their faces, as WND reported in February.

Also, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction urged that white students wear “white privilege” bracelets. In response, WND’s Mychal Massie wrote, “White privilege today is exercised with cruel, censorial efficiency by white liberals who are in positions to control the flow of news and public school curricula.”

Despite notions of “white privilege,” universities offer programs with names like “Kansas Ethnic Minority Scholarship” and private organizations such as the United Negro College Fund exist to benefit specific racial groups.

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